I want to look briefly at four mistakes, Christians can make about the referendum and its results.
1) We can assume that getting the result we want, is a good thing, and will guarantee the fulfilment of our hopes.
The book of 1 Samuel tells us that God's people had become dissatisfied with their present political system. They wanted a better one. Consequently, they got what the wanted, but what they wanted did not actually deliver their hopes. They thought the new political system would bring them better prosperity, instead it brought greater injustice and suffering.
1 Samuel 8
"4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”"
2) We assume that not getting the result we want is the end of hope and the guarantee of bondage to an unwanted and unethical system
Prior to the arrival of Jesus; Israel, God's people, were subject to the Roman Empire. They had lost their national identity, their governmental power and there was a strong resentment towards Rome due to many years of exploitation. Sounds like Yes campaign objections to Westminster, doesn't it?
So Jesus bursts on to the scene and declares Himself to be the messiah. This gets some interest. Why? The messiah was going to overthrow God's enemies. Consequently, the Jews assumed that this meant that the messiah would lead a revolution, overthrow Rome, and lead the Jews to freedom. However, these expectations were dashed -- Jesus was crucified.
On the road to Emmaus, after the cross, and before they are aware that they are talking to the risen Christ, the despondent disciples declared: "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" Luke (24:21) In other words, they assumed that the messiah was going to bring them political freedom.
Even once they discover he is risen from the dead, just prior to his ascension, they still don't get it: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). In other words, Lord, when are you going to give us freedom from Rome? They never understood that the freedom of God's kingdom, was a freedom that would flourish in any governmental context. The Kingdom of God is neither dependent upon nor threatened by democracy or dictatorship. And this is true for the Christian on 19th September. Neither an unwanted Westminster Government, nor an undesired independent Scotland, should dash our hopes or leave us in despair. The Kingdom is bigger than our political ideologies.
3) We forget that we are pilgrims who are looking for a better (heavenly) country.
The New Testament describes the saints of the Old Testament in the following way:
"They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11:16)
Many people have their hopes set on a better Scotland, with or without Westminster. However, political systems can only deliver so much. All the benefits are temporary. This is not to say they are not important, but to highlight that they are limited. The bible reveals a hope that is deeper, a freedom that is fuller and a government that is greater and it is only found in the eternal Kingdom of God. An old hymn speaks about the eternal hope in the following way:
- I have heard of a land on the faraway strand,
’Tis a beautiful home of the soul;
Built by Jesus on high, where we never shall die,
’Tis a land where we never grow old.
Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old;
Never grow old, never grow old,
In a land where we’ll never grow old.
- In that beautiful home where we’ll never more roam,
We shall be in the sweet by and by;
Happy praise to the King through eternity sing,
’Tis a land where we never shall die.
- When our work here is done and the life-crown is won,
And our troubles and trials are o’er;
All our sorrow will end, and our voices will blend,
With the loved ones who’ve gone on before.
4) We can forget that although we are pilgrims, we are also stewards
"Let your Kingdom Come. let your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven"
However, while it is true that we are pilgrims who are only passing through this world, we need to remember that we are also stewards. We can be quite dismissive about the present revival of political interest because we know the limits of political promises. However, we need to be careful that we are not cynical in a sinful way. For many years, Scotland has been marked by political and national cynicism, consequently the present day revival of interest in the political process is something to be celebrated, not dismissed. Whatever happens on Sept 19th, we need to help channel the awakening and concern for political justice and fairness. We need to remember that social justice is not dependent upon a Yes or a No vote. Let's encourage each other, and our communities towards greater involvement in the political process. We are pilgrims, but we are also stewards, and we are called to use our time and talents for the good of others and the glory of God.